Undergraduate Olivia Mann has spent her summer as the Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern at The Frick Collection in New York City. During her internship, she prepared and delivered two gallery talks; A Home for Art and Closer Look, which discussed an object of choice from The Frick’s permanent collection. For her Closer Look talk, Mann chose Miss Mary Edwards, a 1742 portrait by British artist William Hogarth. This talk was also broadcast live through The Frick’s Facebook page on June 27. Below is Mann’s summary of her time at The Frick Collection and what it has meant for her education at UD.
The following content has been edited for length and clarity.
Preparation for my talks required hours of poring over art historical books and exhibition catalogs in the Frick Art Reference Library (lovingly abbreviated as FARL). I worked through several drafts of my A Home for Art and Closer Look talks with Education Assistant Rachel Himes and Associate Museum Educator for Academic Programs Caitlin Henningsen. The portrait Miss Mary Edwards upset widely held beliefs in eighteenth-century Britain about a women’s place in the world. At the time, the status quo was that men—fathers of daughters or husbands of wives—commissioned portraits of women; portraiture was a means to commemorate milestones in womanhood, such as marriage or giving birth. In stark contrast, the portrait Miss Mary Edwards, which was commissioned by Mary Edwards herself and features the accouterments of white male power, represents female agency. Through this artwork, I found a way to incorporate The Frick Collection’s permanent collection into contemporary discussions about women’s rights. For my A Home for Art talk, I negotiated between Henry Clay Frick’s identity as a ruthless tycoon whose opposition to labor unions precipitated the Homestead Strike of 1892 and a philanthropist who brought The Frick Collection into existence.
This kind of negotiation was facilitated by the Museum Education Reading Group. The Museum Education Reading Group—curated and guided by Education—met once a week to discuss “institutional critique,” including issues around gallery dialogues, visual thinking strategies, and decolonizing museums. Lastly, I worked with the Summer Institute for High School Students. The Summer Institute drew on the special exhibition Canova’s George Washington and The Frick Collection’s celebrated portrait holdings, and engaged with the visual language of memorialization. Professor Wendy Bellion’s "Iconoclasm" seminar’s field trip focusing on the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers proved invaluable throughout the summer. At the Samuel H. Kress Lecture in Museum Education, I even met President of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker, who co-chaired the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers.
I have always believed that being a museum educator is not without civic responsibility. Authentically engaging with The Frick Collection by going public and critically negotiating Henry Clay Frick’s past in 2018 has only strengthened this conviction; museum education has a civic purpose. Having held a summer 2017 internship in Major Gifts at the Whitney Museum of American Art, being an Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern at The Frick Collection reaffirmed my passion for museum education. With Rika Burnham, co-author of the groundbreaking book Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience, at the helm of Education, The Frick Collection truly operates as an arena for engaged pedagogical exploration. It’s a kind of evolving laboratory for museum education. With Education at The Frick Collection’s emphasis on the concept of narrative in European paintings and decorative arts, being an Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern has afforded me the building blocks for becoming the kind of museum educator I aspire to be.
One of the highlights of my time at The Frick Collection was going bowling in Henry Clay Frick’s bowling alley. Finished in 1916, Henry Clay Frick’s bowling alley has elegant wooden lane beds, a gravity-powered ball return, and heirloom balls themselves, which curiously have two holes instead of the typical three. And, as I am sure my co-interns—Isabelle Fernandez (Hunter College), Habiba Hopson (Occidental College), and Jenn Tham (Bryn Mawr College)—will attest, bowling in an authentic early-twentieth-century bowling alley is a great bonding opportunity.
Neither a name nor a New York art museum has meant so much to me, because neither a name nor a New York art museum has opened so much to me; the life-changing generosity of Ayesha Bulchandani—The Frick Collection trustee who financed my internship—opened me up to the warmth of Education at The Frick Collection.